Sunday, June 17, 2007

I Got a Crush...On Karfunkel

It has recently been discovered that our very own Brian Karfunkel makes a cameo in the too hot for youtube "I got a crush... on Obama" video.

Check out the video:

And if you missed it, here's a screen shot of our man:

Friday, May 25, 2007

Go to the Progressive Gala, Ready to Question

You may have noticed by the calendar entry to the right that this weekend is the big Progressive Gala, a time for all the progressive groups on campus to get together and have a unified progressive time of it. This is a good idea, and it promises to be fun. You should go--hey, James Carville is even headlining.

However, Hollie Gilman, the self-proclaimed originator of the Progressive Gala idea, has an article in today's Maroon in which she says, "Amidst discussions of New Initiatives and ordering food, this basic core idea of the Progressive Gala [i.e. uniting progressives] has been lost." I'm not a big campus insider, and she doesn't really explain what that means, but I take it there is some dissension as to the usefulness of the event.

For my part, while I certainly encourage you to go enjoy yourself at the Gala, I do have a James Carville timeline you may wish to keep in mind:

1992: Bill Clinton retakes the White House for the Democrats after 12 years of Republican rule. James Carville gains fame and adulation as lead strategist.

2002: As recorded in the 2006 documentary Our Brand is Crisis, Carville and allied Democratic strategists enact an eerie presage of the fraudulent sale of the Iraq war to the people of America by traveling to Bolivia. Establishment Bolivian presidential candidate Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada brought in the American hotshots as part of his successful bid to return to the presidency after a one-term absence.

November, 2004: According to Bob Woordward's latest book, John Kerry was all set to fight it out, through recounts if necessary, in Ohio in 2004. There is some pretty clear evidence that significant voter suppression was carried out in Ohio by Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and others, so it might have been productive to challenge that suppression.

Surely, as a loyal Democrat, James Carville would support Kerry in taking a stand and making sure the election was conducted lawfully. But instead, revealed Woodward, Carville called his wife, who was working on the Bush-Cheney campaign. He told her about Kerry's plan, so that Republicans, including Blackwell, could prepare to rebuff any challenges from Kerry. Kerry did not end up making any such challenge.

November 10, 2006: Carville leads the charge amongst out-of-touch DC consultants to depose Howard Dean as chair of the DNC on the heels of the wild successes of the midterm elections. The crux of his argument is that Dean should have lavished more money on third-tier races, ignoring that Rahm Emanuel is the primary reason Democratic money was concentrated on long shots like Tammy Duckworth (IL-06) rather than spread around to lots of long shot candidates. Carville's alternative is to install losing Tennessee Senate candidate (and current chair of the DLC) Harold Ford, who was the only Democratic Senate candidate last cycle who was in a close race and ran a center-oriented DLC-style campaign. Ford was also the only one in such a race who lost.

Since everyone else thought Dean did a great job, even a begrudging Rahm Emanuel, the coup didn't go anywhere. As Chris Bowers wrote on MyDD at the time, under Dean's 50-state strategy, "small donations from progressive movement activists flow to the DNC in record amounts, and most of those donations end up being spent on direct grants to state parties and in the form of state-level field organizers. This is a novel path for Democratic money to take, especially since it generally bypasses both Washington, D.C. based consultants and wealthy donors. It is also exactly why Carville's base of supporters hate Dean so much."

February 12, 2007: Carville appears on the CNN program Situation Room and defends Hillary Clinton's original vote for the Iraq war. Clinton herself usually defends this vote by pointing out that the intelligence the Administration showed her made it look like a really good idea, to which everyone usually replies, "Yah, but it didn't look like that great an idea, especially since other members of Congress had the same intelligence and voted against it."

To which James Carville replies, on Situation Room, "But they weren't from New York. Their state wasn't hit. They didn't have to deal with the grief of these 3,000 people." Confused, everyone else nonetheless has a ready comeback: did you seriously just buy into the fraudulent Bush-Cheney frame that 9/11 had something to do with what happened in Iraq? Really? Even after all this time, when it was conclusively proven years ago that 9/11 had nothing to do with Iraq and Bush knew it?

March 30, 2007: A stir is created in the blogosphere when it is determined that Carville, a Hillary Clinton strategist/analyst, has been appearing on CNN without divulging his attachment to Clinton. The problem is that he uses his time on CNN to trash Obama without any mention that he is on the Clinton campaign. He and CNN show no regret for misleading the public and admit no wrongdoing.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Better Enforcement Through Community

Last week, a supposed compromise was reached on immigration reform between Bush, Congressional Democrats, and Congressional Republicans. There appears to be a very small chance at best that the compromise will make it into law, not least of all because Bush would have to push it pretty hard--which he doesn't seem particularly interested in doing. Personally, I wouldn't listen to anything he says if I were a policy maker anyway. But it also happens to sound like a really terrible policy.

Check out some of the details of the three biggest compromises in the compromise:
  • "The first [Democratic concession to conservatives] would make illegal immigrants' access to long-term visas and the new guest-worker program contingent upon the implementation of the border crackdown."
  • "Another sticking point came from the proposed replacement of an immigration system primarily designed to reunify families with a point system that would give new emphasis to skills and education.... points would be granted to migrants with work experience in high-demand occupations and who have worked for a U.S.-based firm. Additional points would be awarded based on education levels, English proficiency and family ties."
  • "Finally, immigrants coming into the country under the temporary work program would have to leave when their permits expire, with no chance to appeal for permanent residence. Labor unions say such a system would depress wages and create an underclass."
I don't have a big problem with making it contingent on some improvements to enforcement. But all these crusades to build a wall or a burning river of gasoline or something along the border are idiotic. I also have a problem with the crackdown coming first, since this will mean that a bunch of bitter immigrants will see us being assholes for several years before they ever get to the part that's good for them. Speaking of which, even that part isn't very good for them.

One of the big advantages the US has always had over Europe in terms of immigration is that (a) immigrants can bring their families and (b) they can eventually become citizens. This helps keep them from becoming radicalized. Guest worker programs are more of a European thing, and anyone who is serious about opposing terrorism will oppose them since they prevent (a) and (b) from happening. If anything, Europe should be emulating our system, not the other way around. Let's revisit what happened in Europe:
The mass immigration of Muslims to Europe was an unintended consequence of post-World War II guest-worker programs.... Today, Muslims constitute the majority of immigrants in most western European countries, including Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, and the largest single component of the immigrant population in the United Kingdom....

Unlike the jumble of nationalities that make up the American Latino community, the Muslims of western Europe are likely to be distinct, cohesive, and bitter. In Europe, host countries that never learned to integrate newcomers collide with immigrants exceptionally retentive of their ways, producing a variant of what the French scholar Olivier Roy calls "globalized Islam": militant Islamic resentment at Western dominance, anti-imperialism exalted by revivalism.
Being a guest worker means you are supposedly in the country temporarily at the discretion of some employer. This means that you have no incentive to contribute to a community you are only visiting. Your employer can exploit you, because he can send you back if you try to organize or demand better treatment. There's no sense bringing a family with you, since it'll be cheaper to support them by sending money back to the home country. Since you will have no family or friends in your new neighborhood, you will be bored and restless and horny. If we're lucky, those ingredients will only be a recipe for an Old West-style environment of vice. If we're unlucky, that will mean your only friend, the only day-to-day reminder of some sort of purpose in your life, is the radical cleric who runs your local mosque.

But corporations, famous for acting in their own interest only, sure seem to like guest worker programs. Let's check in with David Sirota from April:
“Where Are All The Workers? Companies worldwide are suddenly scrambling to manage a labor crunch.” This is the public rationale from corporate executives (especially in the high-tech industries) for massive job outsourcing and exploitation of the H-1B program: We can’t find the workers we need. We are expected, for instance, to ignore academic studies published recently by the National Academy of Sciences showing that, in fact, there is no shortage of high-tech engineers here in America. We are expected to ignore the data showing that companies are using the H-1B program to drive down domestic workers’ wages by forcing them into competition with imported workers from impoverished countries.
Judging by their reaction to the compromise, the captains of industry really are still expecting these things from us. Here, by way of Kevin Drum, is that corporate reaction, playing right into the script:
Robert Hoffman, a VP at Oracle, is unhappy with the new immigration bill, which includes a "point system" that allocates visas to applicants with education and job skills:

"Under the current system," Mr. Hoffman said, "you need an employer to sponsor you for a green card. Under the point system, you would not need an employer as a sponsor. An individual would get points for special skills, but those skills may not match the demand. You can't hire a chemical engineer to do the work of a software engineer."

If nothing else, you have to admire the chutzpah Hoffman demonstrates here.... The idea that someone can simply get a green card without going through a sponsor and then freely work for the highest bidder is not really what high-tech CFOs have in mind when they dream of filling up job slots with foreign workers.

In other words: untying the H-1B visa program from employer sponsorship isn't such a bad idea. But untying immigrants from planting roots and forming communities is a horrible idea. Immigration can indeed be a useful tool in counter-terrorism, as some have hoped. But it is most useful when it gets communities to police themselves, not when it builds a harsher society.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Shifting Coalitions and the Politics of War Crimes

Once upon a time, Karl Rove dreamed of putting together a coalition of voting blocs that would form an unbreakable permanent majority. Bush was at the helm of a conservative movement that would maintain Republicans' current strength with neocons (=neoconservatives, those who believe US might makes right), theocons (=those who support prayer in schools, Moral Majority, et al.), and paleocons (=those who are fiscally conservative but otherwise libertarian, a/k/a Eisenhower Republicans).

Together with some swing voters they were able to lure consistently over several elections, this Republican movement was able to maintain a razor-thin majority in Congress and in presidential elections for several cycles.

Then, somewhere between Katrina and Iraq, Social Security and Terry Schiavo, people realized that Bush was doing a horrible job. His approval ratings tumbled into the low 40% range, and they have been around 28-35% all throughout this year. But despite the consensus that Bush is the worst president ever, he consistently draws about 30% in the polls. So who's been peeling off, and who's left?

One group that has been peeling off is made up of people who are sort of conservative but justd not totally batshit insane. Like former Republican (and commander of forces in Iraq) Gen. John Abizaid:
Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) is another former Republican who couldn't stand it any more. He won his first race last fall.

As you may have guessed, the 30%ers who still support Bush by and large actually are crazy. Check out Paul Krugman's description of the scene at the Republican debate on Tuesday:

[A]side from John McCain, who to his credit echoed Gen. Petraeus (and was met with stony silence), the candidates spoke enthusiastically in favor of torture and against the rule of law. Rudy Giuliani endorsed waterboarding. Mitt Romney declared that he wants accused terrorists at Guantánamo, "where they don’t get the access to lawyers they get when they’re on our soil ... My view is, we ought to double Guantánamo." His remarks were greeted with wild applause....

What we need to realize is that the infamous "Bush bubble," the administration’s no-reality zone, extends a long way beyond the White House. Millions of Americans believe that patriotic torturers are keeping us safe, that there’s a vast Islamic axis of evil, that victory in Iraq is just around the corner, that Bush appointees are doing a heckuva job — and that news reports contradicting these beliefs reflect liberal media bias.

And the Republican nomination will go either to someone who shares these beliefs, and would therefore run the country the same way Mr. Bush has, or to a very, very good liar.

The 30%ers who still support Bush are the remainder of the coalition, now that the reasonable people have split off. The paleocons like Abizaid and Webb have left over issues like torture. And since they applaud waterboarding but sit on their hands when their candidate speaks against torture, it becomes clear that the 30%ers will not support a candidate unless he supports war crimes:
At the end of the Tokyo War Crimes Trial, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East of which the United States was a leading member (the Tribunal was established by Douglas MacArthur) convicted former Japanese Prime Minister Tojo and numerous other generals and admirals of a panoply of war crimes. Among them was torture:
The practice of torturing prisoners of war and civilian internees prevailed at practically all places occupied by Japanese troops, both in the occupied territories and in Japan. The Japanese indulged in this practice during the entire period of the Pacific War. Methods of torture were employed in all areas so uniformly as to indicate policy both in training and execution. Among these tortures were the water treatment...

The so-called "water treatment" was commonly applied. The victim was bound or otherwise secured in a prone position; and water was forced through his mouth and nostrils into his lungs and stomach until he lost consciousness. Pressure was then applied, sometimes by jumping upon his abdomen to force the water out. The usual practice was to revive the victim and successively repeat the process.

Support for war crimes makes Rudy Giuliani a good choice for the neocon wing. But the theocons just can't get behind a guy who has such a dodgy record of marriages and support for abortion. So the 30%ers are threatening to splinter even more.

There is some danger that people will only see Bush's criminally poor job performance as a reflection of his unique leadership abilities, when in fact his performance has been the perfect embodiment of his movement's principles. Conservatives may be disowning Bush, but they are not abandoning his horrible world view. Some people are worried that the lack of philosophical unity among the new Democratic supporters will translate to flimsy support. I don't think we have anything to worry about as long as Republicans stick with Bush in principle, if not in name.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Breaking the Camel's Back

If ever there was any doubt that George W. Bush needs to be impeached, the testimony we heard yesterday should lay it to rest. A former top aide to Attorney General John Ashcroft testified yesterday about a series of events that sounds more like the climax of a Hollywood thriller than like a government playing by the rules. From the Post:
On the night of March 10, 2004, as Attorney General John D. Ashcroft lay ill in an intensive-care unit, his deputy, James B. Comey, received an urgent call.

White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and President Bush's chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., were on their way to the hospital to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize Bush's domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal.

In vivid testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Comey said he alerted FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and raced, sirens blaring, to join Ashcroft in his hospital room, arriving minutes before Gonzales and Card. Ashcroft, summoning the strength to lift his head and speak, refused to sign the papers they had brought. Gonzales and Card, who had never acknowledged Comey's presence in the room, turned and left.

That's right, John Ashcroft, who liberals love to hate for trampling civil liberties with the Patriot Act and various other awful conservative offenses, is actually the good guy here. He recognized that Bush's blatantly illegal domestic spying order was illegal, and he refused to sign off on it. The second in command of the Department of Justice had to bring the head of the FBI to Ashcroft's hospital bed to keep Bush's goons from forcing his signature.

Apparently Comey also testified that if he, Ashcroft, Ashcroft's chief of staff, and the head of the FBI hadn't all threatened to resign over the program, Bush would have gone ahead with it anyway. Now, just to be clear, the program is still illegal, to this very day. So whatever change Bush conceded to in order to appease Comey et al. doesn't solve the problem or make Comey and Ashcroft into actual good guys. But in this Administration, just being less evil makes you look like a saint.

As Glenn Greenwald implies today, there is no solution for the problems this creates short of impeachment:
The overarching point here, as always, is that it is simply crystal clear that the President consciously and deliberately violated the law and committed multiple felonies by eavesdropping on Americans in violation of the law.

Recall that the only federal court to rule on this matter has concluded that the NSA program violated both federal law and the U.S. Constitution...

Yet even once Bush knew that both Aschcroft and Comey believed the eavesdropping was illegal, he ordered it to continue anyway. As Anonymous Liberal wrote yesterday:

That's a rather stunning fact, and one that I wish at least a few mainstream journalists would attempt to grasp the significance of. The White House authorized a program that everyone of significance in the Justice Department had determined to be lacking any legal basis. They willfully violated the law.

As Dan Froomkin writes today, trying to get a sick guy to sign a paper is never going to be considered the worst thing this Administration has done. But it may be the one thing that makes all the other stuff make sense. It might exemplify the rest of the misconduct, somehow symbolizing it for people who don't have time to follow the ins and outs of emails about purging prosecutors. It might, in other words, step into the role the Mark Foley scandal played last fall. To quote myself:
the Mark Foley scandal from last October--it's not that Republican leadership really influenced policy by protecting a sexual predator, it's [that] they helped people condense the narrative of corruption and arrogance that surrounded the Republican Congress. We also know from the groundbreaking work of Samuel Popkin that voters tend to form a narrative and then adjust it with new information, rather than constantly weighing and reweighing all the evidence.

But as cool as I feel for drawing that analogy, I felt even more vindicated to see the following in the Post editorial page:
JAMES B. COMEY, the straight-as-an-arrow former No. 2 official at the Justice Department, yesterday offered the Senate Judiciary Committee an account of Bush administration lawlessness so shocking it would have been unbelievable coming from a less reputable source.
You may recall that my very most recent blog post was about how the Administration got away with so much just by doing things that people couldn't believe an Administration would do. At that time, I relied on Kevin Drum's assessment of the situation, which I now re-cite:
One of the great discoveries of the Republican Party over the past decade or two is that an awful lot of the rules we take for granted are, in reality, just traditions. Like redistricting only once a decade, for example, or keeping House votes open for 15 minutes. And what Republicans have found out is that if you have the balls to do it, you can just ignore tradition and no one can stop you. It's that simple. Alberto Gonzales has learned this lesson well. Normally, cabinet officers who have been caught in multiple obvious lies have to either resign or else seriously try to defend themselves. But Gonzales realizes this is just tradition.
So the Washington Post editorial board provides the other reason this may be such an important development in the scandal. Just to review, the first reason is that this is easy to remember, and it symbolizes the larger problem. The second reason is that the gatekeepers of establishment knowledge, who are too blind to see the obvious when it is spread out in front of them, may finally get it when it is sitting in front of them nicely gift-wrapped. Let's hope so.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

US Congress, featuring Fleetwood Mac

The House Judiciary Committee invited Alberto Gonzales to testify yesterday, but he apparently heard an invitation to come tell lies, in the finest Fleetwood Mac tradition.

Although, to be fair to Gonzales, some of the things he said would be more accurately classified as non-sequiters than lies. Slate's Dahlia Lithwick has been providing excellent coverage of the Gonzales saga, and she chimes in with an perceptive take on the proceedings in yesterday's issue.

Lithwick describes "a divine moment of stunned silence when he insists, toward the end of the hearing, that 'it would be almost impossible to make a political decision in the Justice Department. ... If that happened we would read about it in the paper.' " Technically, this is a lie. The paper trail has shown just how easy it would be to make a political decision in the DoJ. You can also tell it's a lie, because you have in fact read about it in the papers. But it's just such an obvious, brazen lie, really only half-heartedly masquerading as truth, that it seems like a joke. A non-sequiter, something so random as to be inherently hilarious.

The "testimony" Gonzales gave yesterday is full of these fun little nonsensical moments. Lithwick goes on:
[T]he AG proves himself to be as defiantly incurious as his boss. He tells the committee at various times that he didn't read the CRS report detailing how previous administrations handled U.S. attorney dismissals. He didn't read the University of Minnesota study that broke down the disparity in investigations of Democrats over Republicans. He tells Maxine Waters, D-Calif., that he still has not read the fired U.S. attorneys' personnel files. He notes several times that he hasn't much read the newspapers. He tells Sanchez that he still doesn't know who at Justice had more than "limited input" into these decisions. The most revealing moment, perhaps, is when Gonzales inadvertently confesses that some members of this secret cabal of senior leaders may not have even "known that they were involved in making this list."
These statements are probably a lot more true, but they have the same non-sequiter property that the lies do: instead of describing something obviously false, though, they describe someone obviously incompetent.

For someone who is so incompetent at running the Department of Justice (and at testifying before Congress, for that matter), Gonzales sure sounds like he was relaxed. But why shouldn't he be? He doesn't serve the American people, he serves the White House. And the White House is behind him all the way, and he knows it. Plus, the longer he doesn't resign, the easier it is for Republicans to claim that the fact he hasn't resigned shows nothing bad could have happened.

There are several possible reasons why Bush might not want to fire Gonzales. For one, if Gonzales leaves, Bush will need to submit a new candidate for AG to Senate confirmation hearings. If that happens, all sorts of fun documents will probably come to light. For another, Bush is obdurate and often refuses to do the right thing simply because he wasn't doing it already (see also: Iraq, invasion and occupation of).

But the most convincing explanation is the one Kevin Drum has articulated:
One of the great discoveries of the Republican Party over the past decade or two is that an awful lot of the rules we take for granted are, in reality, just traditions. Like redistricting only once a decade, for example, or keeping House votes open for 15 minutes. And what Republicans have found out is that if you have the balls to do it, you can just ignore tradition and no one can stop you. It's that simple. Alberto Gonzales has learned this lesson well. Normally, cabinet officers who have been caught in multiple obvious lies have to either resign or else seriously try to defend themselves. But Gonzales realizes this is just tradition.
I would add to his examples the tradition of not lying. That seems basic and obvious, but I really think respect for that tradition is what allowed many people to rationalize letting us get into Iraq in the first place. The evidence for WMDs was shaky at best, but surely the President wouldn't say it if it weren't true. Either way, Drum is right: our democracy is not well set up to stop people who intentionally try to destroy it from the inside.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Got to Give it Up

In my last post, I talked about the hypocrisy of Republicans who are setting a timeline in September after dragging every other proponent of a timeline through the mud for years. Well, this may shock you, but I found some more Republican hypocrisy since then. This time they're trying to harass the Iraqi politburo, or whatever joke of a legislative body "runs" their country, into giving up its two month summer vacation.

In order to think this is an important problem, you have to assume that the legislative body there actually controls anything about the country. But from the violence and failed infrastructure, combined with the foreign military occupation and mass resignations, I would say they don't.

But Dick Cheney says they do. Specifically, he was scheduled to say that on his visit today. At the press availability this morning, the US Ambassador to Iraq mentioned that Cheney would talk about the vacation:
"The reality is, with the major effort we’re making, the major effort the Iraqi security forces and military are making themselves, for the Iraqi parliament to take a two-month vacation in the middle of summer if [sic] impossible to understand," [US Ambassador Ryan] Crocker said.
I would have to say I agree with that. But I'm quite surprised to hear about it coming from this party. The 109th Congress (last term's; dominated by Republicans) worked the fewest days AND failed to even complete its most basic legislative duties. Bush set the record for laziest President ever (measured by vacation days) almost two years ago. Most famously, Bush insisted on prolonging his vacation while thousands died in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

But this problem of vacations just dovetails with the larger Republican problem of connection with reality. Guys: it's too little too late. Sing it with me now: you got to give it up. If working on this pressing problem (so pressing that approximately 3,400 Americans are dead because of it) was so important to you, why did you take all those vacation days? And that brings us to Cheney's other statement. Apparently today he was scheduled to say, among other things, that:
We’ve got to get this work done. It’s game time.

As others have pointed out, what is it about a war ravaging through the Middle East for the last four years that makes it "game time" only just now? Was there a time when this was not important? Were you only giving this partial effort before, since it wasn't game time? Up til now, have we just been talking about practice?

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